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Orioles-Nationals series preview: a very serious, non-fabricated rivalry is renewed

These two teams play baseball games geographically close to each other, so of course they “hate” one another, right?

Baltimore Orioles v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Fake rivalries are so much better when both teams are really good. That is certainly the case for this year’s version of “The Beltway Series” or “The MASN Cup” or whatever you want to call it. It’s a clash of serious playoff contenders as the Orioles and Nationals meet for a four-game set split between Baltimore and D.C.

The Nationals offense has been crazy good through the season’s first month. Going into action on Sunday, they have scored the most runs (189), hit for the highest average (.288), gotten on base the most (.363) and slugged the highest (.494) of any team in baseball.

Who is leading the charge? You know the answer, of course. It’s 32-year-old Ryan Zimmerman, duh! You know, that same guy who slashed .218/.272/.370 last year and hasn’t stayed healthy for an entire season since 2013? Yeah, he’s crushing it with 13 home runs, 34 RBI, a .435 batting average and .907 slugging percentage.

But it’s not one guy who is making this happen, it is the fact that their lineup is super deep. Bryce Harper is back in MVP form with a .376/.504/.723 slash line. Daniel Murphy continues to rake with a .341/.382/.561 line and former Oriole Matt Wieters and his .274/.365/.476 line have been a nice addition behind the plate.

We can get into the pitching a little more in the match-ups below, but as a unit they have just sort of been OK. Altogether, they boast a 4.17 ERA, but that number includes a Jeremy Guthrie start that lasted just two-thirds of an inning where he allowed 10 earned runs to score, so it would be fair to say they are a touch better than that.

The Achilles heel for the Nats, as it is with most teams, is their bullpen. It’s bad. The 88 innings they have thrown is in the bottom third of the league, yet their 5.32 ERA is the fifth-worst mark in baseball. They still do not have a well-defined back of the bullpen. Joe Blanton and his 10.64 ERA have been a disappointment.

As a group, they have already blown four saves in 14 chances. For now, Matt Albers appears to be their closer. He has yet to allow a run or a walk in 11.1 innings, but his track record suggests it won’t last for long.

Game 1: Monday at 7:05 p.m. in Baltimore
Kevin Gausman (1-3, 7.55 ERA) vs. Gio Gonzalez (3-0, 1.64 ERA)

“Gausman is going to figure it out eventually, right? He’s too talented not to.” That line is starting to sound a bit cliche. Maybe he had something working last week in Boston, but we will never know thanks to the home plate umpire’s happy trigger finger.

The righty only threw 20 pitches against the Red Sox, yet he has remained on normal rest, so he might have a little extra something in the tank on Monday. He will need it, as he has had issues against these Nationals hitters, albeit in very small sample sizes. Trea Turner is 3-for-3 against him, Harper is 2-for-5 and Adam Lind is 3-for-9.

If Cy Young voting started right now, Gonzalez might be the winner in the National League. His ERA is tops in the senior circuit, but it should probably be a lot higher. His 7.98 K/9 is his lowest mark since 2010 and his 4.23 BB/9 is his highest since 2008, his rookie year. On top of that, he has a batting average on balls in play against of just. 257 when his career average is .297. All of that adds up to an xFIP of 4.35, which is a little closer to reality.

Game 2: Tuesday at 7:05 p.m. in Baltimore
Ubaldo Jimenez (1-1, 6.58 ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (4-2, 2.66 ERA)

Jimenez played the good solider last time out, tossing three scoreless frames in relief of the ejected Gausman. The outing forced Jimenez to miss his next scheduled start, so he too may have a little extra to work with. Who knows if that’s good or bad for Ubaldo?

Apart from his April 19th start against the Reds where he threw 7.2 scoreless frames, Jimenez has been pretty terrible. It’s a low bar to beat, but this may the worst he has looked since joining the Orioles. Even against the Red Sox he was iffy, allowing three walks in just three innings of work. Every time the O’s have called on a starter from Norfolk, they have performed, and with Chris Tillman back in the rotation Jimenez needs to step up his game to remain a starter for this team.

Scherzer, the defending Cy Young Award winner is really good again this season. The 32-year-old is averaging 11.29 strikeouts per nine innings, the best mark of his already impressive career. He too has been fortunate with a .238 batting average on balls in play against, but that may just be because he is throwing the nastiest stuff of his life.

That said, Adam Jones really likes to face him as he is 12-for-25 against Scherzer with three home runs. Chris Davis has some nice numbers too: 8-for-24 with a double and a home run. The rest of the guys? Not so great. Seth Smith’s .188 average is the best of the rest.

Game 3: Wednesday at 7:05 p.m. in D.C.
Wade Miley (1-1, 2.27 ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (3-1, 2.66 ERA)

The O’s lone southpaw starter; he too didn’t get a full start last time. Sensing a theme here? His outing lasted just 0.2 innings because he was hit on back-to-back at-bats by a line drive up the middle. The first one smacked him on his left rest and led to some swelling. The fact he is scheduled to make this start is kind of amazing, really.

Washington’s current crop of hitters have feasted on Miley in the past. Altogether, they are 34-for-84 in their careers, which translates to a .405/.479/.595 batting line with 11 walks, 12 strikeouts, eight doubles, a triple and two home runs. Good luck, Wade!

Strasburg’s velocity is up a tick to give him a 95.6 mph average on his fastball, but his 7.97 strikeouts per nine innings is the worst mark of his career. But his home run rate of 0.44 per nine innings is half of his career number, which makes sense since he is boasting a ground ball rate or 52.6 percent, also a career best.

Game 4: Thursday at 7:05 p.m. in D.C.
Dylan Bundy (5-1, 2.17 ERA) vs. TBD

All Bundy does is win games. However, at some point, it feels like he is going to need to strikeout more batters. Right now, he averages 5.52 punch outs per nine innings, but he is also only walking 2.17 in that same time. His BABIP of .256 and home run to fly ball ratio of 5.3 percent both show room to balloon up, but for now let’s enjoy the good times.

It looks like A.J. Cole is in line to start for Washington. The 25-year-old’s first start of the year on Saturday went well as he allowed just one run in six innings against the Phillies and likely deserves another shot. It’s possible that Joe Ross gets called up, but the 23-year-old has been roughed around in the majors to the tune of a 7.47 ERA in three starts and just gave up seven runs in five innings for a start with Triple-A Syracuse.

*All stats were taken prior to games played on Sunday, May 7th


How many games will the Orioles win against the Nationals in this series?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    4 (The Orioles sweep)
    (42 votes)
  • 19%
    (83 votes)
  • 55%
    (239 votes)
  • 13%
    (60 votes)
  • 1%
    0 (The Orioles get swept)
    (8 votes)
432 votes total Vote Now